KJ: “There’s this road called Clinton Road that’s the longest uninterrupted road in New Jersey, if not in the East Coast, or something. Obviously, it’s uninterrupted, so there’s no stop signs or lights or anything, but there’s also no streetlights either. It’s very windy and through trees and there’s some kind of lake or creek on either side. So, there’s one creek that goes under it, so there’s a bridge over, and basically—I don’t know if it’s completely a made-up story, because whenever you go there, there are crosses and flowers where people got killed getting hit by cars on the street. The story is that a boy got hit by a car and killed on the street, and if you put a penny on the bridge at midnight, his ghost will appear.”
The informant is a 19-year-old college student from Montclair, New Jersey. She said the legend of the Clinton Road Ghost is popular across the state and that teenagers often carry out the ritual meant to conjure the ghost. KJ described driving to the site with her friends and staying in the car when her friends put a penny on the bridge. While they were pulled over at the side of the road, a man drove by and asked them why they stopped. When they told him everything was fine, he warned them that “there are more things to be afraid of than deer around here,” which she interpreted as him trying to perpetuate the legend and make them afraid.
In ‘Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore,’ Folklorist Ülo Valk wrote that spirits and ghosts’ “sudden appearance occurs when human beings wander from their daily routes into strange and alien territory by visiting an area of potential danger (such as a body of water) or by being somewhere at the wrong time (such as a graveyard at night” (Valk 33). The legend of the Clinton Road ghost embodies both of these qualities, since it is specific to the most treacherous road in New Jersey, where many deaths have taken place, and it appears at midnight, deep into the night, when it’s dark and when many accidents take place.
This legend’s popularity among teenagers makes sense considering the cultural significance of getting one’s driver’s license at 16 and gaining independence through the ability to drive. Valk wrote that ghosts “may appear in order to reinforce social norms, proper behavior, and traditional customs” (Valk 33). I think this legend is meant to warn teenagers about the dangers of reckless or drunk driving, just as folklorists theorize that legends like La Llorona convey messages about safety around bodies of water. One could argue that the legend promotes responsible driving by illustrating and stoking fears about how injustices of the past—the young boy’s death from being hit by a car—haunt people in the present.
Valk, Ülo. “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore.” Journal of Folklore Research: An International Journal of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, vol. 43, no. 1, 2006, pp. 31–52., https://doi.org/10.2979/jfr.2006.43.1.31.